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2018 Camp Goonzhii, Arctic Village Trip Report

Volunteer Report by Cynthia Sisson

Arctic Village sits on the banks of the Chandalar River and borders the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  It’s here that I went as a volunteer for the Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges to participate in the 2018 Camp Goonzhii Science and Culture Camp.  I arrived at the school just in time to observe an elder teaching students how to cut up a caribou leg and make caribou stew. I guess camp had already started in Arctic Village.

The next day began with my facilitating bird nest building with an enthusiastic group of about 12 kindergarten-4th graders. Outside, across from the school, we found some willows, turning a beautiful fall yellow. The bushes were just the right height for these young scientists to construct a bird nest. Weaving sticks, grass and leaves together they eagerly built small cup shaped nests.  They tested their nests with three small stones which represented eggs. Each nest passed the test!


Next came a lively group of middle schoolers. Out into the field we went and they also were intent on participating. They asked pertinent questions such as: how do birds know where to build a nest? How long does it a take a bird to build a nest? Can a bird lay eggs without a nest?  The high schoolers were next and I was pleased to see how much care and diligence they took in constructing their nests. I was so impressed with all the student’s enthusiasm and excitement for learning about bird nests. Some wondered if their nest would last all winter and a bird might come and use it next spring.

The days at Camp Goonzhii were filled with other diverse science activities. There was, “the life of salmon” which included an activity in which students observed how water flow effects the success of egg survival. We had a morning on the creek where students collected and observed aquatic life.  Students also practiced in the art of scientific sketching. And they were informed about how wildlife refuges are managed. The last day village elders came and talked to students about several topics from protecting their land to being successful in school.

The entire experience at camp and visiting Arctic Village was amazing. Thank you to Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges. I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to assist with Camp Goonzhii.

(Header photo by Cynthia Sisson; Landscape by Gwich’in Steering Committee – “Unnamed lake along east fork of Chandalar River)





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2017 Camp Goonzhii – Arctic Village

Field Report by Christina Whiting

I first participated in a science and culture camp in Arctic Village in 2010, when I helped the other teachers with their lessons. This year, I taught storytelling with the theme of home and through the mediums of photography, writing and art. On the first day, I taught four photography classes – one to grades K-3, one to grades 4-8 and two to grades 9-12. I had thought that the 9-12’s would be the most excited about photography, but the 4-8’s actually showed the most interest and took some terrific photographs of one another.  On the second day, I taught writing, one class to each grade group, with the 9-12’s doing a great job with their assignment of taking written articles, circling existing words and making poems and stories out of them. On the third day, I taught art, using collage materials to make posters. This is where the K-3’s excelled. I was excited to see that most of the students really connected with the activities and the projects they were creating. I was surprised to see a theme of zombies emerge time and again! Several student gave me their writings and drawings to take home, while the remainder were given to the principal to post in the hallway and in the gym.

This year’s camp was very organized, with a flexible structure and the pre-camp communication was excellent. The activities, meals and accommodations were perfect! While I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the kids and in the village, there were several special highlights for me. The first was the arrival of snow during our first night and subsequently watching it coat the surrounding landscape as the days went by.  Second was when a teacher asked her class what their favorite activity was on that day and they all shouted out ‘photography’. Third was when students, teachers and instructors were shuttled upriver, where we dropped off on a little hill and spent hours poking around the area and soaking up the sunshine. The fourth was going on a walking tour of the village, guided by a young man born in Arctic Village. And the last highlight for me was giving two of the older students a camera to wander around the school and village to take photographs and videos on the last day and having a teacher tell me that she had not seen these young men so excited about anything before.

I left Camp Goonzhii knowing that I had shared a great deal with the students, giving them tools to capture and share their own stories. I also left knowing that I learned a great deal from the students, teachers and community members. Everyone, from the principal, teachers, students, custodians, cooks and community members we interacted with, were gracious and helpful. I would love to return to this camp again next year.

The Friends funded Christina’s travel to and from Camp Goonzhii in Arctic Village.

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Kodiak Refuge Salmon Camp

June-August, 2017

The mission of Salmon Camp is to educate Kodiak’s youth about the natural and cultural systems that define Kodiak’s geography and empower learners to investigate their own connections to this special place through hands-on learning, self-reflection and group discovery.


Since 1996, Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, in conjunction with Alaska Geographic and the Kodiak community, has sponsored the Kodiak Summer Science and Salmon Camp. Within two years of its inception, Salmon Camp became the largest science-based camp in Alaska. In 2002, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognized Salmon Camp as one of its top five environmental education programs in the nation. This camp serves students from kindergarten through 8th grade.  The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges has supported the camp for several years, providing funding for educational experiences.


The camp kicked off in early June with “Fishing Day,” with 125 attendees.  Bird TLC from Anchorage was on hand with a live bird demonstration, featuring a merlin and a peregrine falcon. Check out some photos below.








(photos by Lisa Hupp/USFWS)
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Arctic Village Science and Culture Camp Goonzhii

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Friends Volunteer Brenda Dolma had the opportunity to work with youth, refuge staff, and community elders of Arctic Village, during their annual Science and Culture Camp.  Camp Goonzhii (meaning “wisdom and knowledge” in Gwich’in) took place in late August 2016.  Thirty youths ranging from kindergarten through twelfth grade participated. The Science and Culture Camp includes curriculum in western science and traditional ecological knowledge, combined with indoor and outdoor learning experiences through demonstrations and hands on environmental education activities. Community elders share their wisdom about the land and animals, while Refuge staff offer exposure to new technologies.   Some camp topics and activities included:
  • Migratory birds
  • Animal tracking and drawing
  • Archery
  • Dog sled construction
  • Skin sewing
  • Caribou butchering and processing
  • Blueberry picking
  • Plant identification
dolma2I had the opportunity to meet Sarah James [community elder and Friends member], who has been speaking to protect the habitat for the future.   It was a treat to get out on the field trips and experience the beauty of Arctic Village in fall,” says Brenda.

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  To learn more about the Camp, check out this article by News Miner, in Fairbanks. The Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges provided funding for nightly community dinners and Brenda’s travel. Membership comes with the chance to Volunteer. Check out our current opportunities.